In some educational systems, a course in physics is part of a program of study leading
to almost any degree in science, medicine or engineering. Therefore many university
students, even those who are not planning to study the subject further, take physics
courses. A small fraction of these students may be motivated by interest in the subject
itself. In secondary school, it can be assumed that a similarly small fraction of students
taking physics courses would do so if it were not required.
Many physicists have expressed concern about the perceived lack of student interest
in physics, some motivated by the sense that overall participation is low, and some by
the sense that physics has lost its attraction for the brightest students. Moreover, students
who see a physics course as a barrier to be overcome in the pursuit of their true
interests, may be disengaged during instruction.
Numerous explanations have been proposed for the relative lack of interest in physics.
Empirical research has much to offer in helping us understand the reasons students
choose to study physics or not, and offer insights that can be used to attract more students
to the discipline.
In this talk I will discuss relevant research findings and propose an agenda for research
that could lead to broader participation and greater engagement.